Great job Keeley!

One of our students, Keeley Baizana, 11, had the opportunity this week to sing the national anthem at a City of Ottawa council meeting. 

Watch the clip here:

Keeley’s performance also received some rave reviews on Twitter that morning:

Harder introduces the anthem singer, an exceptionally adorable moppet from Barrhaven. She’s excellent.” – David Reevely (@ReevelyLive)

“@BaizanaIns @BarrhavenJan @AlisonBaizana Great job! Keeley is a star!” – City Councillor Steve Desroches (@SteveDesroches)

“She was awesome!…” – City Councillor Jan Harder (@BarrhavenJan)

Way to go, Keeley!


Some Kind of (Wonderful) Spark

Documentaries about music education are a rare find – though when you stumble across one, they have a way of tugging on your heartstrings.

Music, unlike other academic subjects (I’m thinking of you, mathematics), has such a universal, emotional appeal. Anyone and everyone can sense a connection to music. You don’t need formal training or years on the road or in the studio to have such deep appreciation for the world’s most beautiful language.

Enter Director and Producer Ben Niles, creator of ‘Some Kind of Spark’, a film documenting the lives of seven inner-city children attending a special music program at Julliard in New York City. (Mr Niles is no stranger to making movies – his latest film, ‘Note By Note (The Making of Steinway L1037)’ won top honors at the Sarasota Film Festival and was screened in over 30 countries in 5 different languages.)

‘Some Kind of Spark’  features the personal stories of these children and their teachers, shot over a two year period, beginning in 2010. It shows the powerful impact music can create, regardless of who you are and where you come from. It follows these kids inside the classroom, in their homes, and on stage.

The film also acts as a chilling reminder about the decline of money invested in music education in US schools over the past quarter century.  (It’s not much different here in Canada, unfortunately) This trend, Niles notes, is not looking good for future generations:

[It’s] compromising our children’s education and jeopardizing our culture. Low-income children-children who also tend to be from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in the performing arts-are missing out on the immense value of music training on a child’s development. Children who study music do better on standardized tests in both math and reading and are more likely to go to college. And music programs are proven to be an effective tool in keeping kids off the streets and preventing teen violence. Through music study they learn many life skills such as problem-solving, self-discipline, creativity, empathy, compassion, and the value of hard work. Not to mention that many students-including the poor, the disadvantaged, and the emotionally disturbed-who might otherwise be unreachable can often be taught through the inspiring power of music. (

As an independent film, the film’s producers will not take money from Julliard to help fund post-production costs, citing that it is not meant to be a promotional tool for the world-renowned school. It’s aim is to squarely raise awareness about the powerful influence music can have on our children’s lives.

To raise money for this project, Niles’ team has put in place a few online campaigns to garner support. One is backed by Women Make Movies, which allows any donation to be tax-deductible. There’s also an online campaigned featured on

So, music friends, if you are in a position to donate, please do! Any amount is appreciated. It’s a project we can all feel good about.

Congrats to the 2013 Greely Idol winners!

9 year old Anna West, first place winner for the Junior Division in this year’s Greely Idol vocal competition.

A very special shout out to two wonderful young singers, Anna West and Gillian Fenwick, for each capturing a win at Greely Idol 2013!

The vocal competition, which was held January 26-27, 2013, was a chance for young singers across the city to come showcase their stuff in front of a live audience and panel of judges, including Stephanie LaRochelle, the runner-up from CBC’s Over The Rainbow.

Gillian Fenwick was crowned the winner of the Senior Division after her acoustic rendition of David Guetta’s “Titanium”. At just 13 years old, Gillian was the youngest participant in her catergory.

Anna West, 9, was given first place honours after tying for the top spot in the Junior Division for her cover of Adele “One & Only”, along with vocalist Jake Hamilton.

Anna’s been studying voice for a few years now, and Gillian started in lessons this past September. Both currenly study with vocal teacher Tashi Bernard at Barrhaven Music Academy in Ottawa.

Congrats again girls on a job well done!

Catch their winning performances here:

Happy New Year! Why learning music should be your resolution for 2013

This time of year is often a period of reflection and looking upon new horizons; deciding  what didn’t work last year and what to improve, or start, in the next twelve months. Joining a gym, spending more time with loved ones, or pushing yourself up the career ladder are all common resolutions heard around the water cooler. Another popular one? Learning how to play a musical instrument.

Interest in learning music often peaks at this time of year, as people seek to expand their skill set or start something new. No matter what age, learning a new skill can have great benefits, both cognitviely and emotionally. As neuroscientist Nina Kraus discovered recently, learning about music can facilitate getting better at other things, and in ways that can last a long, long time.

A number of her studies conclude that:

Musical experience has a pervasive effect on the nervous system. Our recent articles show that lifelong musical experience enhances neural encoding of speech as well as music, and heightens audiovisual interaction. Our work suggests that musicians have a specialized neural system for processing sight and sound in the brainstem, the neural gateway to the brain. This evolutionarily ancient part of the brain was previously thought to be relatively unmalleable; however, our studies indicate that music, a high-order cognitive process, affects automatic processing that occurs early in the processing stream, and fundamentally shapes subcortical sensory circuitry.

So, go ahead and pick up that instrument that you’ve always wanted to learn — its never too late — and as you can see, the benefits may be more than just becoming a better or happier or more fulfilled person. There is no better time than now to take on something new. 

Happy New Year!


On the set of Daytime Ottawa

The last few weeks have kept us busy preparing for Music 4 Brynn, and a short while ago I stopped by the studios of Daytime Ottawa to chat with hosts Derick Fage and Lois Lee about the event:


9th Annual Kiwanis Idol auditions done, Top 20 to be announced soon

This past Sunday marked the deadline to enter the 9th Annual Kiwanis Idol competition in the National Capital Region.  Contestants between the ages of 13 and 21 came out to perform their two best songs, one a capella and one with accompaniment, in front of a panel of three judges.

“Everyone has done a superb job today. Just getting up on stage in front of a crowd is an accomplishment in itself, especially for those who have never performed before,” explained one of Sunday’s judges, Nadia Zaid,  owner of a local music school and teacher who specializes in piano and vocal training.

The Kiwanis club hosted this year’s auditions at Merivale Mall. Four rounds of tryouts were held over one weekend in late July and again on August 11 and 12. Over a hundred hopefuls came out vying for a spot in the Top 20 that will be selected to move on to the next round.  Each day, tryouts lasted  from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

With the last round of auditions coming to a close, the judges have the tough task of selecting the best ones for the Kiwanis Top 20 Showcase, performed live at the Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre on August 25.

Kiwanis Idol judging panel, (from left to right) Nadia Zaid, Jenna Taggart and Diana Lynn Kyd.

The Showcase, which will not be judged or scored,  gives contestants an opportunity to sing a new set of songs in front of a live audience before the next round of the competition begins.

The top 20 finalists will return to the stage once more at the Orleans shopping centre on September 1, 2012,  to narrow the field down to the Top 10. Those who make the cut will have one last chance to perform, on September 2, before they crown the winner.

For more information on Idol and all the latest updates, check out

The Top 20 is scheduled to be announced shortly, according to organizer Eldon Fox’s Facebook page. Good luck to all those who auditioned!

Why music education needs to stay in our schools

I had my first piano lesson when I was three years old. Notwithstanding my stubborn impatience at the time, I believe my parents had good intentions introducing me to music at such an early age. Years later, as part of my grade 6 to 8 school curriculum, I was fortunate enough to learn trumpet; I participated in senior and jazz bands which took me across the province for a number of competitions and workshops.

As I grew up, I really wanted to learn guitar. My wish came true, on my birthday one year, when I received my first acoustic six string. Years of private lessons coupled with John McCrae Secondary School’s music program allowed me to continue my musical education throughout high school. Finally, during my time at the University of Ottawa, I started giving lessons to my own handful of keen students.

Becoming a music teacher makes you see the impact and importance of music education from a renewed perspective. It certainly opens your eyes to the limited amount of resources we have, whether it’s properly qualified teachers or well-invested music programs in our schools, and how we ought to protect those resources from becoming even scarcer in the future.

In 2010, the Coalition for Music Education Canada commissioned a survey to study the state of music education in 1,204 schools across the country. Looking at Ontario specifically, their findings were unwelcoming: funding decreased more (26%) than it improved (18%) over the past two or three years; the number of specialist teachers decreased (20%), as well as did schools’ participation in festivals (25%). Nevertheless, there were some promising changes in our province: 36% of Ontario schools had an increase in artist visits, while 35% saw improvements in music-related technology.

It cannot be emphasized enough how important music education is to the development of a child’s academic and expressive well-being. Simply put, music makes us smarter; it sharpens the senses, enhances emotional intellect and the ability to focus, while increasing the capacity for learning new languages. Research exists that claims continuous musical study into adulthood can help prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Recent announcements surrounding the 2012 provincial budget warn that more school closures are coming. School board grants and incentives will be cut to help slay the deficit. Will public music education be affected? Finance Minister Dwight Duncan has repeated that music programs have returned to curriculums under his government’s tenure and “our goal is to protect that.”

With the budget being passed last Tuesday, I hope, for the sake of current and prospective music students, it’s a promise Mr. Duncan is willing to keep.